Sometimes, especially on days like today when the world feels like a horrible, nonsensical place, the idea of choosing to be happy can seem impossible. But while we can often feel completely, terrifyingly unable to control what goes on around us, we can choose how to live our own lives. And I reckon we can all use a little bit more happiness.
Recently I signed up for an e-course run by Gabrielle from The Green Gables (who also created the Happy Paper Club) called Choosing Happiness. Over four weeks, we considered happiness from a number of angles, beginning with Gratitude – focusing our attention on being thankful for the good things that happen, rather than the bad things. This was followed by a section on Contributing and Connecting: the way we interact with other people, and how the smallest gesture can have a huge impact on both parties’ happiness.
In week 2 we covered Wellbeing, both mental and physical. This one struck a particular chord with me, particularly the sections on catastrophising and sleep. (I love sleep; I just don’t get enough of it.) And as I know I don’t always take particularly good care of myself, I really welcomed all the practical suggestions of small changes we can make to improve our wellbeing.
Next was Environment. This involved looking at the surroundings we have control over, like our homes and workplaces, and considering how they could be improved to make us more comfortable and, by extension, happier. Then we thought about our external environment and the importance of exploring and appreciating the world we live in.
In this section of the course, we also covered mindfulness. This is something I struggle with, as I find it difficult to turn off my brain. Luckily the course came with a couple of mindfulness exercises, one about listening and another about observation, which I hope will help. (And if not, I have a Harry Potter colouring book now. Oh yes, that happened.)
Finally, in week 4 we covered Purpose and Play: first, the importance of finding meaning in life, and knowing that what we’re doing makes a difference, whether’s it to one person or the wider world. And then the things we do in our spare time; while these might not have a huge impact on the world, they do provide balance, not to mention they give us pleasure and influence how much we enjoy life.
The course also included three meditation practices. I must admit, as with mindfulness, I don’t feel 100% comfortable with meditation yet, as it’s really hard to stop my brain racing off in 100 different directions. But it’s early days, and I’ve never tried meditation before, so who knows? Maybe if I keep practising, I’ll crack it eventually.
One of the final exercises in the course was to put together a happiness manifesto. I started doing this, and then realised I’d sort of done it already, with this post from earlier in the year (which, by the way, is still one of my favourite blog posts of all time). So I combined that with Gabrielle’s advice in the course, and here’s the finished article…
I loved doing the happiness manifesto; it’s a great way of crystallising what’s important to you, and I love the fact that it’s totally unique to me – if every single person in the world made one of these, they would all be different. What would you put on yours?
The Choosing Happiness e-course will hopefully be running again next year, and I’d recommend checking it out. It throws quite a lot of information at you in a relatively short space of time, but what’s great is that once you have the material, you can go back to it as often as you like, to re-read, process and try the activities again, as well as look up the additional resources listed at the end of the course.
I’ve already implemented some of the strategies in the course – I’m writing in a gratitude journal every night, making a conscious effort to enjoy small, positive interactions with people around me, and trying to appreciate my surroundings more. There’s still plenty more to work on – I definitely haven’t cracked the sleep thing yet – but I’d rather have too many ideas on how to be happy than not enough.
So, can we really choose to be happy? Yes – apparently we can. And I look forward to giving it a go. Who’s with me?